Last night, when it became clear that the New England Patriots were going to lose in an ugly way to the Denver Broncos, I turned the TV off and picked up a book. (The Pats roared back in overtime to win the game, leading me to wonder if ignoring them might be the key to saving their season the way it was with the Red Sox over the summer? Something to consider.)
As Tom Brady was digging his team out of a 24-0 hole, I was reading this thought from Janna Malamud Smith, author of An Absorbing Errand:
“I grew up surrounded by writers, painters, potters, musicians–artists of all sorts. But it wasn’t until I observed [my mother-in-law] in and out of her garden that the penny dropped, and I recognized the shared psychological patterns of all I had long witnessed. As with the literal act of gardening, pursuing any practice seriously is a generative, hardy way to live in the world. You are in charge (as much as we can ever pretend to be–sometimes like a sea captain hugging the rail in a hurricane); you plan; you design; you labor; you struggle. And your reward is that in some season you create a gratifying bounty.”
I guess I’m captivated by this because I’m curious about what constitutes a “generative, hardy way to live in the world,” even though I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms until I read that paragraph. I’m caught in the tension between the immense need I see everywhere and the mundane things that comprise most days. We’re taught in my (Christian) faith that life is a tremendous gift to be protected and celebrated…and yet at the same time, the vast majority of lives pass by leaving little mark at all. We can do so much with our time and talent and energy…and yet we can do so little.
I think maybe I’m growing up a little, by which I mean I’m becoming more like Anne Lamott and less like Joel Osteen. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Life is calmer, and I appreciate little things I might not have spent time on before. But I miss big enthusiasm and audacious belief that things can get better, that miracles happen in ways BEYOND people being nicer to one other. I miss expecting God to come through.
The word “compassion” has always made me cringe, although I couldn’t have told you why. Today, I’m wondering if it’s the way in which this word suggests that we shove God out of the picture. Officially, it means “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” But in practice, it’s become an excuse for not expecting miracles. Don’t get me wrong–I appreciate small gestures of love and the ways we can comfort one another through difficulties. But as I look at Jesus’ life, he spent very little time processing people’s feelings with them, and much more time saying, Walk. Be healed. Be free. His message was based on the promise that What is impossible with man is possible with God. That’s an interesting seed to plant.
The past three years have stamped on my soul how useless I am – how little I can do to right a sinking ship or save a drowning child. But today I’m thinking, “So what?” Because God is incredibly useful. Unimaginably powerful. And real, even though sometimes, He is So. Very. Slow.
My goal for this Thanksgiving week is to tend my “garden” of faith, so to speak; to pursue the practice of audacious belief and keep my eyes open for miracles. It takes a fair amount of cultivation to see “gratifying bounty” in this area. Those seeds die so easily when exposed to the elements. But it’s possible. My hope is that by this time next year, there will be much m0re to be thankful for, and many, many tangible reasons in your life and mine–like so many blooming flowers–to be in awe of God.